The 2003 Asian Formula 3 (AF3) Series, organized by the Asian Formula Three Corp. and backed by Yokohama Tires, Denso Iridium Power, and Regional Container Lines, began last April at the Philippines' Subic International Raceway and had already made the rounds of the Batangas Racing Circuit (BRC), also in the Philippines, the Bira Circuit in Thailand, the Autopolis in Japan and China's Goldenport Circuit before winding up at the BRC for the second and final time this year.
With the titles in the International and Promotional Classes already decided in favor of Pepon Marave of Shell Casino Filipino Team Tom's and Jojo Silverio of Castrol-Ambi Pur Car Team Goddard, respectively, Rounds 11 and 12 of the seemed destined to be ho-hum affairs.
The usual cast of drivers minus a few regulars turned up. Aside from Marave and Silverio, the entry list included Denso Hanjin JF3's Richard Joson; Castrol-Ambi Pur Team Goddard skipper Mark Goddard, who switched to from his Dallara F301 with a blown engine to Silverio's older F398; 2002 Asian Formula Renault champion Enzo Pastor of Casino Filipino Team Petron and GM Speedtech Asia Petron's Roland Hermoso, who was forced to drive Joson's old car after his regular machine was commandeered by Silverio. Taking to the cockpit in the AF3 for the first time was Mandy Borja of of Shell Casino Filipino Team Tom's. Sidelined due to engine problems was GM Speedtech Asia's JP Tuason
One thing that helped changed the face of the competition was the presence of Australian F3 frontrunner Christian Jones, who flew in from down under with his own crew and car. Little was known about the 25-year-old driver save for the fact that he was the son of the 1980 Formula One world champion Alan Jones.
According to the Asian Formula 3 Corp., Jones was a guest entry in the International Class for cars built in 1999 and later, and as such would not be eligible for points in the series. His participation was meant to test the level of racing in the series and to provide a basis for other Australian drivers, who might be interested in joining the AF3 series in the future.
That probably drew a sigh of relief from Joson and Goddard, who were squaring off for second place in the championship behind Marave.
In the Promotional Class for cars built in 1998 and earlier, it was the same story between Pastor and Hermoso as both were in contention for runner-up honors behind Silverio.
Right from the start of the 30-minute qualifying session Jones engaged Marave in a brief but heated battle. Marave, who topped the timesheets during official practice with a scorching 1:25.428, threw down the gauntlet with a 1:26.030 and Jones responded with a 1:26.045. On his fifth lap, Marave overlooked his entry into the notorious left-hander Brian's Curve, spun off into the grass and stalled his car. Jones was fortunately able to step up his pace around the 3.1-kilometer circuit, which he is racing on for the very first time, clocking in at 1:25.830, which remained unchallenged for the remainder of the session.
Despite his excursion, Marave's time was good enough to put him alongside Jones on the first row of the grid. 2003 AF3 champion Goddard posted a 1:26.586, which placed him third on the grid. His teammate Silverio, timed in at 1:26.812 to grab fourth. Fifth spot was taken by Pastor, who registered a 1:27.348 after hastily pitting in to change a punctured tire. Sixth place went to Joson, who posted a 1:27.393. Hermoso, meanwhile, was able to cure a misfire that dogged him throughout unofficial practice and qualified seventh with a 1:27.502. Borja timed in at 1:34.545 for eighth. With the proceedings concluded, the drivers looked forward to the next day's races.
At the green light, Jones took advantage of pole position and took the lead going into turn one followed by Marave of Shell Casino Filipino Team Tom's, who pressed the Australian hard until the third lap, when a spin at the end of the main straight dropped him down to fifth and started a melee that affected half of the field.
Involved in the ensuing confusion were Goddard, who half spun and half stalled his car in order to avoid Marave but was able to continue, and Pastor, who tried to pick his way through the carousel of cars but was struck hard by Hermoso. Pastor retired with a broken front wing, while Hermoso limped back into the pits with a leaking radiator.
It was all that Jones needed to complete his unhindered dash to the checkered flag to take top International honors 15 seconds ahead of Goddard and 17 seconds ahead of Marave.
In the Promotional Class, Borja was gifted with his first AF3 win when Silverio, who came to grips with a broken differential for most of the race, slowed down and allowed him to pass.
After the 12-lap race, Jones said, "It was a little bit easy but unfortunately most of the other drivers had problems and spun. I probably lost my closest rival that way in this race," He added, "Of course, if you start from the front it makes your job a lot easier."
A philosophical Goddard commented, "He did win it easily, but there was an incident with Pepon that held everybody up. I'd like to think of it as an eye opener for Christian. The important thing is that it was good for the AF3 because it showed that our drivers are competitive with the best drivers from other countries."
"I was expecting a better finish but the start was a bit exciting and Christian really showed us some driving skill. I couldn't pass him. The door was always shut wherever I tried to pass but that was a fair move," Marave said about Jones.
Final classification for the International Class: Mark Goddard - Castrol Ambi Pur Team Goddard (1st), Pepon Marave - Shell Casino Filipino Team Tom's (2nd); Promotional Class: Mandy Borja- Shell Kinetic Racing (1st), Jojo Silverio - Castrol Ambi Pur Team Goddard (2nd).
Immediately after the morning race, the mechanics of teams with damaged cars set out to work and restore their machines to working order. Silverio, Hermoso and Pastor, in particular, watched with bated breath as their technicians worked miracles. All three had their cars ready by race time. The others complained of fading brakes, which was attributed to the nature of the torturous track.
By the time the formation lap was begun, the bleachers and roof deck was filled to capacity and those who wished for more action in the second race and got it. At the green light, Goddard pulled off a perfect start to nose out Jones at the first corner. Behind them Marave, who was surprised by Jones' hesitation at the start, stalled his own car on the line but was able to bump start it in time to tuck in behind Silverio, Joson , Hermoso and Pastor.
By the third lap, a full-blown duel between the leading Goddard and a determined Jones was underway much to the delight of the spectators with the two protagonists literally inches away from each other. On Lap eight, Goddard ran over a loose portion on turn one, which caused him to spin. Jones, who was waiting for the opportunity, immediately shot into the lead, picked up his pace and never looked back.
Joson, who slowly closed in on the leading pair, anxiously waited for the moment to move in. "I was just watching them and thinking that one of them, if not both them would commit a mistake. I didn't want to move to close behind them because I'll get caught if one of them spins out. And there it was Mark spun out, so I moved in to take second. It was too late to catch up to Christian, but if given a few more laps, I would have surely caught up with him," said Joson.
Marave claimed third place in the International Class, while Silverio took victory in the Promotional Class. Hermoso managed to finish in second place ahead of Pastor but was not able to gain enough points to take second in the Promotional Class championship.
"I really enjoyed coming up here and I'd like to thank everyone for all their help. The Filipino people have been great, very supportive, nice and helpful," Jones stated during the post race press conference. "I'd like to come over next year. I just need to find some sponsors and if I find some sponsorship I'll come race over here for sure," he reiterated.
A visibly pleased Joson attributed his performance to his crew after securing second place in the championship over Goddard, "We had problems the whole weekend and we couldn't find a good setup so in the first race we were totally off the pace and then my engineer Takeda-san and all my mechanics just decided to change everything and take a chance and as it turned out, it was a good set up."
Final classification for the International Class: Richard Joson - Denso-Hanjin-JF3 (1st), Pepon Marave - Shell Casino Filipino Team Tom's (2nd); Promotional Class: Jojo Silverio - Castrol Casino Filipino Team Goddard (1st), Roland Hermoso - Petron Speedtech Asia (2nd), Enzo Pastor - Casino Filipino Fujtsu Ten Team Tom's Petron (3rd).
The battle for second and third in the championship standings was as exciting as the race. In the International class, Denso-Hanjin-JF3's Richard Joson gets away with second overall by just 2 points ahead of Brit driver Mark Goddard of the Castrol Ambi Pur Team Goddard. In the Promotional Class it was a closer call as Casino Filipino Fujitsu Ten Team Tom's Enzo Pastor gets away with just a point ahead of closest rival Roland Hermoso of GM Speedtech Asia Petron who had to settle for third.
The festive atmosphere at the Batangas Racing Circuit for the Addict Formula 3 Super Prix was once again in full swing thanks to the Asian Formula Three Corporation and Times International. The event was supported by Addict Mobile, Yokohama, DENSO Iridium Power, Regional Container Lines, Fila, Samsung, Red Horse Beer, AutoIndustriya.com, and The Manila Bulletin.